Elements of Trust

by Ron Potter

In the Harvard Business Review was the following article:

The 3 Elements of Trust by Jack Zengar and Joseph Folkman.

Three Elements of Trust

I think Zenger and Folkman are right on when they identify

Positive Relationships
    • Stay in touch on the issues and concerns of others
    • Balance results with concern for others.
    • Generate cooperation between others.
    • Resolve conflict with others.
    • Give honest feedback in a helpful way.
Good Judgement/Expertise
    • They use good judgment when making decisions.
    • Others trust their ideas and opinions.
    • They can anticipate and respond quickly to problems.
    • Are a role model and set a good example.
    • Walk the talk.
    • Honor commitments and keep promises.
    • Follow through on commitments.
    • Are willing to go above and beyond what needs to be done.

Let’s unpack each one of those.

Positive Relationships

Of the five points that Zenger and Folkman make, the three I would pick as the most powerful would include, concern for others, resolving conflict, and giving honest feedback.

Concern for Others

Human beings have an amazing ability to determine if someone really cares for them or is just using them to accomplish a task.  Don’t kid yourself, you can’t fake this one.  If you don’t truly care for the other person, they will do what they are told because of your position but nothing more.  To build winning teams, you need more.  You need people’s energy, creativity, and cooperation.

Resolving Conflict

Resolving conflict relies on good listening.  I identify this skill as

Listening with the intent to respond vs Listening with the intent to understand

It takes a great deal of energy to listen with the intent to understand.  First, you must suspend what you “know”.  People know when you’re just lining up your points to make as soon as you see an opening in the conversation.  It’s even worse if you create that opening by interrupting with your points to counter their points.  They know you’re not trying to understand them.

There is a great deal of talk about diversity these days.  Listening with the intent to understand and teaching others to do the same, actually takes advantage of the diversity.  It’s not about our origins, race, gender, or whatever is being thrown into that diversity bucket these days, it’s about understanding.  The diversity identities being tossed around today don’t mean anything if we’re not listening to understand.  Individuals will have very different belief systems, even if they’re part of the same category of people.

Good Judgement/Expertise

The biggest issue to watch out for in this category is what Robert Quinn in his book “Deep Change” identifies as the “Tyranny of Competence”.  Some of my more difficult consulting and coaching times occurred when I had to convince and then help leaders dismiss people who fell into this category.  The first word in this title is “tyranny”.  People who fall into this category are incredibly competent and knowledgeable in their subject matter.  However, they use that competence as an excuse for not developing good relationships.  Every time the person who lives by the Tyranny of Competence is asked to leave, I’ve observed teams blossom into highly effective teams based on trust.

Zenger and Folkman put three elements in this category: Good judgment, trust of others, and they respond quickly.  I believe the middle point of the three —”Others trust their ideas and opinions”—is the hinge that makes the other two work.  One reason that the trusts exist is that there has been listening with the intent to understand.  I can’t emphasize enough how much this element builds trust.  Because good leaders have listened well and built trust, they tend to have good judgment and can respond quickly to threats.


I believe consistency requires Integrity.  Integrity comes from the Latin word “integer”— meaning whole or complete.  Integrity means that you are the same person regardless of the circumstances or the people present.  It has a foundation of honesty and character.  Are you a person of integrity?  Are you always the same person?  When you have integrity and are consistent, it builds trust.

Elements of Trust

Evaluate yourself.  Get feedback from others.

  • Do you develop positive relationships?
  • Do you exhibit sound judgment?
  • Are you consistent and would people say you are a person of integrity?

Regardless of the environment, be it leader, team member, family member, or citizen, nothing will carry you farther than developing trust.

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